Turnpikes: Mobilising the Transport Revolution
This is a classic simulation activity, a wonderful idea from Mick Cutler which first appeared on the School History Forum at:
It’s well worth making regular visits to this site – it’s a great source of ideas, discussion and mutual support.
I have to confess I had never found the transport revolution interesting but Mick’s idea may well get you teaching this topic – whether you normally do or not! What it achieves is understanding of:
- road conditions before the turnpikes and how they affected travel and transport
- why the turnpikes were set up and how they improved travel and transport
- why there was opposition to the turnpikes.
There’s plenty of scope for developing this idea in a number of ways and linking the road revolution to canal developments etc. A few embroiderings of Mick’s initial idea have been added.
1. Ask pupils to 'fling' bags willy nilly into an aisle between two rows of desks. This now represents the road between two towns in 1750. Ask a pupil (as Farmer Sophie or Farmer Darren) to now pick their way from one end of the room to the other using only the patches of carpet that are visible. Time him or her. Change the time in seconds to hours and then discuss implications for Farmer Sophie taking 7 ½ hours to get from York to Leeds to sell her produce.
This can be developed in several ways:
- get a couple of pupils to form a cart, facing each other and linking arms. They need to navigate their way down the road while staying linked. This will slow them down as they have to move in unison and one has to move backwards.
- get a pupil to navigate the road while holding a cup and saucer or some other precariously balanced items to represent the problems of carrying delicate items such as pottery on pre-turnpike roads.
- get a small group of pupils to move down the road, closely packed together, representing animals. They could do this backwards to simulate the sense of slowly picking their way along the road.
2. Now pick a couple of entrepreneurs to pull a table half way across the aisle. This is the turnpike. If you like, get them to come and ask your permission first (you represent parliament – do you take a commission?).
3. Now get pupils to travel the road paying a toll each time (Monopoly money might be useful). Every time the Trust makes a given amount of money (say every two or three 'tolls') they can remove a bag until the road is clear and therefore improved.
4. After the first few travellers have been along the road, ask the travellers how they feel about paying the toll. What have they got for their money?
5. Ask other pupils whether they would like to own a tollgate? Set up at least one more and then send the travellers along the road again. How often are they paying tolls and how do they feel about making the payments? This is intended to build up the feeling of opposition to the early stages of turnpikes e.g. the Rebecca riots in Wales.
6. Finally, after a significant number of bags have been removed from the roadway, time your first volunteer again. This time Farmer Sophie takes far less time and so can make the trip each day and make lots of money selling her nice fresh produce.
7. Ask students what they have learned from this – about road conditions, turnpikes, why changes took place and whether you can always predict the likely outcome – this was beneficial in the long-term but a problem in the short-term. And why might some people prefer canals to roads – think of the weight of e.g. coal.
8. It’s also worth thinking ‘out of period’ – which other changes have been met with opposition and why? Can you think of any in earlier periods (printing?) How does this help to explain protests across time, linking across KS3? Does this kind of opposition to ‘improvements’ still happen today?
- What differences did it make approaching this topic through this physical activity? Was this simply about initial interest or did this have a deeper effect on how students thought and tackled the topic?
- Did students enjoy the nature of the activity and what impact did this have on their learning?
- What did students learn about attitudes to change and resistance to new ideas? Could this be built on elsewhere in their course?